Living with an ESA: Perspectives from an Eastern junior living with her cat, Troy.

      After each long day of class and work,

      I eagerly head to my dorm for peace, solitude, and, of course, my cat. This is not the reality for a lot of Eastern students, but it has been my reality since the spring semester of my freshman year when I decided to apply to have an Emotional Support Animal. This spring marks as the fifth semester I have lived on campus with my cat Troy Bolton. I promise you that this is his real name. I got him when I was nine– prime time of the High School Musical era.

      Many can understand the general comfort of having an animal around in any situation, but Troy’s true test of being a support for me specifically is when I face the symptoms of my anxiety and depression.

      Emotional Support Animals in dorm rooms are relatively new. It was not until 2015 when colleges and universities started allowing emotional support animals on campus. However, the process to acquire an ESA is long and strenuous. This part of The Fair Housing Act can be taken advantage of, as there is no concrete way to assess the importance of a mentally ill person having an ESA. In addition, an ESA is different from a service animal. My cat was not trained professionally to aide to a disorder. Instead, he is classified under an assisting support system; therefore, he does not have the same rights as a service animal.

      Apart from the legality of having an Emotional Support Animal, I think that I personally dealt with a lot of internal stigma when it came to my fight to have Troy in my dorm. I thought that seeking help in any way was a form of weakness and that a cat would not cure me.

      It turned out that Troy did not cure me, but I think that he did so much more. He allows me to live with mental illnesses and still be able to smile. I do not know how Troy learned to care for me, but for some reason, he can sense when I am starting to panic, dissociate, or cry. Most of my panic attacks happen at night when I am trying to sleep. When they start to come, I feel Troy travel toward me on my bed and curl up on my chest. When I dissociate, or disconnect from my body mentally, I am unable to move for minutes to hours at a time.

     After awhile, I think something tells Troy that I should be moving. He seeks me out and headbutts me whenever he can to get my attention. Most of the time, he nudges me back to reality and to my body. Also, I think Troy knows when I cry. He tends to let me cry while he sits next to me. Once I calm down, I pick him up as he purrs and hold him close to my face, still soaked with tears. I do not think he minds being saturated with my tears if it means he is doing his job.

      Living with Troy for the past 12 years, three as an Emotional Support Animal, has been the greatest honor a cat mom could ever have. Apart from being an ESA, Troy is a normal cat. He plays with string, sleeps often, and loves treats, but there is a spark in him that makes him different. I think knowing an animal for so long, developing that bond over a decade, allows us to subconsciously connect. I think that this bond makes him a spectacular ESA. I no longer think that Troy can cure me, but I firmly believe that he aides in my process toward healing, whatever that may look like.

      Sources: HUD

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